How can you create an inclusive work environment where disabled employees are set up to thrive?

Liz Johnson, a Paralympic gold-medalist and founder of The Ability People, works to knock down barriers faced by people with disabilities in the workforce by helping organisations redefine how they view people with disabilities. Drawing from her personal experience overcoming the challenges posed by cerebral palsy, Liz shares strategies that organisations can use to create a more accessible working environment where disabled employees are set up to thrive.

The impact of the pandemic forced many businesses to make significant cuts and changes, but as employers, we have a responsibility to ensure ED&I policies and plans have not been left behind. In 2021, extensive barriers still exist which prevent disabled employees from succeeding in the workplace and the dial has barely moved in the last 30 years. Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed – and those that are employed are often in a job that is below their capability. In most cases, the greatest hurdle is that employers do not have the necessary understanding to address disability inclusion effectively.

At Futureheads, we were delighted to invite Liz Johnson to share key strategies that organisations can put in place to work towards a more inclusive workplace, where employees with disabilities are set up to thrive. As recruiters and employers, we can be a real conduit for positive change, but how do we start removing the unnecessary barriers that exist in order to create an authentic, inclusive environment where disabled people can present their best selves?

We’ve rounded up our top takeaways from Liz’s talk so your organisation can begin to break down these barriers and tackle disability inclusion head on.

Redefine disability

See disability as difference, not a limiting factor

Society is naturally diverse and difference is everywhere, but too often disability is viewed as a limiting factor. However, in order to create a more inclusive workplace, it’s crucial that we move away from these outdated definitions and perceive disability as a difference, as opposed to something negative. For example, it could be that a disabled person needs different software or a specific computer, but this doesn’t mean they can’t complete a task – they may just take a different approach. As an employer, ensure you ask the right questions and listen so you can understand how you can best support a disabled employee. Only then can you make an informed decision in the hiring process.

Appreciate the transferable skills that disabled people possess

When considering a candidate for a new role, resilience, adaptation and innovation are key attributes we all look for. Living with a disability requires all these skills which are highly transferable to the workplace. Whether this is finding solutions or having to adapt quickly, disabled people have spent their life navigating a world that wasn’t designed for them and these are all crucial attributes to being successful in the workplace.

Focus on capability

Focusing on capability during the recruitment process means prioritising the candidate’s capacity to achieve an outcome, not their perceived abilities or the way they execute actions. Just because you wouldn’t do something in a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve all learnt that some individuals are more productive at home while others prefer the office. Applying this focus on outputs and the objective at hand when selecting candidates, rather than clouding our judgement by the way in which someone does something, is an important step towards creating true inclusion.

Remove fear and ask questions

Most importantly, in order to create authentic inclusion we must create open spaces of dialogue that allow us to change our perceptions of disability and to change and learn. Inclusion is too often held back by fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of causing offence or fear of being exposed, but humility is what makes us better people.

In everyday life, when we don’t understand something, we ask questions. When it comes to discussing disability in your organisation, it’s important to not abandon communication principles because you don’t understand or don’t feel comfortable asking a question. It’s understandable that you may be scared or nervous to approach the conversation, but if we are in a position where fear is preventing inclusion, then exclusion becomes the alternative and disabled people are left to carry the burden. However, by getting this human interaction right, creating a safe space to discuss these issues and asking the right questions, we can begin to remove obstacles together. After all, saying nothing at all is worse than well-meaningly saying something wrong.

If you would like to join the conversation or learn more about ED&I at Futureheads, we’d love to chat. Please contact

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